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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

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168                               LIFE   OF
bodies, their plastic power, their physico-chemical pro-
cess,, whether the parts which form the dense mass of
a meteor stone exist separately as vapour, and con-
dense by iUumination. What passes in the black
cloud of meteors in which it thunders for some
moments before the stones fall, whether from the
little star-shoots something solid falls, or only a
vaporous iron and nickel, containing meteor dust;
all this Humboldt has hitherto not been able to dis-
cover. The motion, direction, and vicinity of these
meteoric phenomena, seem to prove that they come
from space into our atmosphere. They always pro-
ceed from one region of the heavens, independent of
the revolution of the earth, their relative speed is four
and a half to nine miles in a second, which is the
speed of the planets, the beginning and termination
of their visibility vary between, four and thirty-five
miles. Humboldt believes that the meteoric streams
which, fall periodically., especially every half year, in
August and November, and which are composed of
myriads of minute bodies, cross the coiirse of our
earth, like the Biela comet, and form a close revolving
ring, in which the asteroids axe so unequally dispersed
that there are few dense and many loose groups; the
earth then periodically comes in contact with these
dense groups, and tMs is tte time of the meteor
falls.
As we have before jaientioned, Humboldt adds
another circle to our solar system, besides the comets
and asteroids ; and this he calls the ring of the zodiac,
and ascribes to it the phenomena of the zodiacal light,
In describing it, he remembers his visit to the " palm-
zone/* where he has often seen the zodiacal light
rising pyramidicaJly, and illuminating a portion of the
equally long tropical nights, often shining more bril-
liantly than the milky way in the sign Sagittarius, as
well in the thin dry atmosphere of the tops of the
Andes, at an elevation of from 12 to 14,000 feet, as in
lite great prairies of Venezuela,, on the sea shore, or
beneath the ever cleax sky of Cumana. TMs pheno-